The whole process of appraising the artefacts took about two hours.
During that time, the enchanters extracted mana from the special modelled weapon artefacts into the crystal. Simultaneously having eight enchanters controlling the crystal would usually lead to malfunctions and lack of control. Fortunately, they were only extracting mana from the artefacts and funnelling that energy into the mana crystal.
There were eight pockets within the crystal where mana could be inserted in. It was purposely constructed in this way to prevent muddle with the ongoing streams of other mana. Furthermore, it was convenient for gauging.
Individually they tracked their tasked artefact, keeping a record, and transferring that information to various other examiners who documented that information.
Throughout the extraction, the crystal radiated with primarily shades of yellow light.
There is a reason why many of the shines are yellowish in colour. It was because it is the element which represents divinity and light. Many of the beasts that inhabit the Maizan Forest embody this "blessed mana".
It is a perplexing matter considering the Vanquish territory does not primarily hold blessed mana in the air. While it partially contains blessed mana, there is also some demonic mana present. The conflicted antithesis between the two had consequently generated instability within the air.
However, this does not explain why the levitated artefacts were glowing in blue.
The truth was unrelated to the environment or elements—it was because of the control of enchanters. When enchanters manipulate objects, a blue glow is outlined on the surface. The glow density varies depending on the amount of mana the object has, which is perceived by the colour.
The audience within those two hours were left on their toes to wait for the results to be out patiently. Holding their anxious breaths, they were silent throughout the first twenty minutes in observing the procedure.
Though they were quiet at first, it was difficult for the young youths to keep their mouths shut for such a long period of time. Eventually, they were unable to resist the temptation amidst the tense atmosphere and began to whisper to peers around them.
Who do you think is going to be in the top rankings?
How long do you think this whole process will take?
Such questions were the most common to be discussed.
No matter how much time had passed no rankings were displayed. This signified that the overseers were planning to release this information at the finale.
When they saw the denser quality of artefacts being extracted and the powerful brilliance emitted from the crystal, their yearning for results exploded.
No longer were they able to maintain their voices low.
They crossed the edge of their anticipation and unleashed theirs awes of excitement.
"Amazing! There's such a difference in reaction when extracting mana from greater quality sources!"
"Which people had artefacts that were deep blue again? There were quite a few even though it is considered to be the rarest!"
"I'm sure the winners are definitely the people involved with slaying "The Monster!" I heard that one of their party members unleashed a hidden technique that made the beast's head go flying! It is said that the activation of the technique had caused her to be unconscious for a few days. While I don't know how much truth this holds, the rumours are deemed to be mostly true!"
Halfway between the extraction of the rich blue mana, an unusual situation occurred.
The dazzling hues of yellow light melded forming dark, moody colours. It was as if gold transformed into charcoal. Except the charcoal was congregated with purple colour. The shines now purplish-black!
Inevitably, the candidates were stirred even greater than previously. The overseers who had expected this outcome could only grimly watch the scene take place.
"The Church rarely condones the activity of demonic mana. As seen from The Land of Demons" beasts, and dark practitioners fought in the war five years ago, dark mana is often associated with the practice of the dark arts. It is a symbol of maliciousness and evil. In the distant past, it was not uncommon to encounter such techniques and elements. Not all arts of darkness were considered to be cursed and evil. In fact, it was simply a type of element, much like how blessed is blessed while fire is fire, and so on. However, such a dangerous element is no longer acceptable. Due to special circumstances, we will not stop this absorption of mana. After all, it is still a genuine kind of mana."
(It was as Sister Edna had said and as I had thought. The association of the dark element was thoroughly forbidden. It appears I really have to leave . . . )
Dejecting and dispiriting emotions swelled up within Dalis. No longer was that proud lurking excitement of ranking high present.
Then a silly thought rose to the back of his mind.
I wish I had not listened to Sister Edna and instead, had failed the exam on purpose.
However, that fleeting wish was not acceptable. It would mean disobeying Sister Edna and lying to himself. Moreover, it would be endangering his life.
Eventually, there was no longer any activity of extracting mana.
The mana storage crystal was no longer shining brightly like the sun. Its radiance had dimmed down to the extent of a lit lamp. In spite of this, the emit light appeared to radiate with coursing mana, vigorously showcasing its energy.
Silence descended upon the marble stage.
Not a word was spoken. All candidates had their eyes on General Zelgius.
It was time for the moment of truth.
The overseers exchanged words making sure everything was correct and ready to be delivered.
"Now we will announce the top thirty candidates in the rankings of this year's Pre-Soldier Exam."
The unused and dormant marble screen was finally awakened from its slumber. Thirty names in descending order slowly scrolled from top to bottom.
It was like watching credits scroll down at the end of a movie theatre. Except, the opposite.
Rank 30- Jessica
Rank 29- Koji Itou
. . .
Rank 27- Raghav Babu
Rank 26- Sun Hee
Rank 25- Sang-jin Wi
. . .
Rank 20- Allen
. . .
Rank 16- Lian Chen
Rank 15- Alexia Mae
. . .
Rank 13- Li Jun
. . .
Rank 9- Wang Yong
. . .
Rank 6- Benito Carter
Rank 5- Hayate
Rank 4- Melvin Serven
Rank 3- Stilla
Rank 2- Sienna Galatas
Rank 1- Dalis
The crowd burst into an uproar. Outbreaks of chatter descended upon the marble stage.
"Dalis? He's the guy part of the group that slayed The Monster. To think a no-name would be the top ranker for the Pre-Soldier Exam . . . that's insane!"
"No-name? Don't you know the rumours? He's apparently the most capable orphan in the entire Orphanage. A while ago, I heard he had even lectured one of his teachers about battle techniques."
"Then why haven't I heard about him then?"
"It's because he's a low key guy. It's hard for people to approach him to confirm the validity of the claims too. There's also the fact that he's rumoured to have a deformed mana seed. Not once has he shown anything mana related. Hence, in the end, it doesn't matter how good he is. One day even the average practitioner would be able to surpass him."
While the stage was filled with commotion, a boy stood silent among the other participants.
He wore a grey garb laced with golden threads and a white scarf that wound over his neck and shoulders. His brown skin, soft brown hair, clear hazel eyes, and healthy countenance ensured that this average-looking boy was easy to get along with. He was, indeed, often seen joking around cheerfully with the other orphans, but today that was not the case. The air around him was chillingly still, and his bright countenance was replaced by unwilling disbelief.
( . . . Sixth place? Father informed me that my greatest foe would be Hayate from the Swamp. Those fellows may be relatively stronger compared to the rest, but I'd have never thought it would lead to this outcome. I underestimated that evolved wolf. It allowed Stilla and the other orphans to obtain abundant mana to overhaul me. This is a disgrace to father . . . I must prove my worth in the Cresuilge Kingdom. My true opponent is only Hayate.)
Benito's outward cold demeanour seemed to glint with killing intent, but a fiery passion threatened to engulf its impression.
(Oh ho? I am ranked five? I lost to those orphans? It appears I lost when it came to a game of luck. That evolved wolf . . . I see. Curses, I should have abandoned that no brain girl from the Mae Family. No matter, they wouldn't care too much, but it's vexing to see that I would've easily won if it weren't for the so-called The Monster.)
Hayate dropped out of his thoughts and welcomed the mass of people.
Although there were many areas of the crowd populating with excitement, the most enkindled spot was for sure where Sister Edna's group was. Not only did it have the top scorer, but it also had seven other candidates who had entered the top thirty.
It was quite unbelievable and became a hot topic for the crowd to discuss the moment it was mentioned.
The highest amount of rankers in the same group had only ever amounted to four. This was double that! It was simply unprecedented in the history of the Pre-Soldier Exams.
"For the love of Caleyar, you guys are amazing! Not only did you guys kill The Monster, you also took the top spots in the rankings!"
"You guys will definitely do just as well in the Cresuilge Kingdom. Who knows, you may even become winners there too!"
"How could one group contain eight orphans in the top thirty rankings? Sister Edna must've done something behind the scenes, don't you think?
While it may have been just a passing envious comment and was quickly subsided by the waves of chatter from the crowd, it was not so for Dalis.
The taciturn Dalis, who had been appreciating the crowd, abruptly froze. His curved lips contorted to a complexion that appeared a little sinister. It seemed to represent the smile of the devil before a contract has been established; an outward impression of goodwill appended with a tinge of leaking maliciousness.
Not even when Dalis had picked up jealous or downright rude comments from the crowd had he reacted like this.
Naturally, he approached her.
He did not trudge towards her with seething anger, nor did he run-up to her . . . he plainly walked up to her.
The nearby peers made way for him, wondering what he has in mind.
Since she was occupied with conversing with her friends and her back was turned, she did not notice the grim reaper that shadowed her from behind.
The grim reaper gently placed his white boney right hand onto the girl's shoulder.
She saw and felt the hand grasp onto her shoulder. As though it was her natural instinct, she shuddered. She had yet to turn her back, but her senses were warning her that something was amiss from that ordinary hand. However, it was not enough to address the hand that touched her.
Thus, she rotated her body . . .
And saw Dalis.
Many questions traversed her mind. When she saw the charming face of his, she didn't think there was anything amiss, but the subtlety of his smile retained that inkling of forewarning.